Photo by Ozier Muhammad

After a pandemic disruption, Newport Jazz Festival makes a poignant, euphoric return

By Nate Chinen for NPR


Early in his set at the Newport Jazz Festival on Sunday afternoon, Jason Moran left his station at the piano, stepping over to a microphone. “I’ve been thinking about what it means for people to gather and listen again, together,” he said, waving an arm toward the sunbaked crowd at Fort Adams State Park. His words carried layers of connotation, rooted in the shared understanding of something precious lost and found.

That feeling ran throughout the 2022 Newport Jazz Festival, back in full after a pandemic disruption. (There was no in-person event in 2020, and a reduced capacity in 2021.) But this was also its first edition since the death of George Wein, who co-founded the fest in 1954, setting a standard for outdoor music presentation that he continued to refine and realign well into his 90s. So there were bittersweet notes even in the weekend’s bounding exuberance, as festival veterans like bassist Ron Carter and composer-conductor Maria Schneider made their mark alongside newcomers like trumpeter Giveton Gelin and singer Samara Joy, who each made glowing, auspicious debuts.

Christian McBride (left) and Brandee Younger perform onstage. Photo by Ozier Muhammad.

Spearheaded by Christian McBride, Wein’s handpicked successor as artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival (who also serves as host of Jazz Night in America), this was a celebration both poignant and euphoric. Its heavyweight crew included some of the artists nearest and dearest to Wein’s heart — like Cécile McLorin Salvant, trumpeters Jon Faddis and Randy Brecker, clarinetist Anat Cohen, and pianist Hiromi. They all converged onstage for the closing number, a rollick through Duke Ellington’s “Cotton Tail” that summoned the sound and spirit of Newport Jazz Festivals past, while gleefully barreling ahead.